Monday, November 24, 2008

What Does Joe the Plumber Have to Do with It? - A Fresh Look at Executive Coaching

About a year ago, thanks to the kind introduction of our mutual friend, Bob Glazer, I was introduced Dr. Mindy Gewirtz. Mindy is an executive coach . . . plus a whole host of other things that will be revealed in the paragraphs that follow. Before I met Dr. Gewirtz, I had a very limited and stereotypical picture in my mind of “executive coaching.” I used to think about an executive coach as “Joe the Plumber” - fixing a leak and cleaning up a mess. I thought a coach was called in only when there was a significant hole in an executive’s performance or leadership that needed to be plugged.

Over the past year, as Mindy and I have met on a regular basis, I have begun to see executive coaching as an iterative process – a framework in which to discuss opportunities to be pursued, problems to be solved or dreams to be dreamed that were never before imagined. Coaching provides tools and strategies for making all of these possibilities a reality; it helps prune away the dead branches to make way for new growth. My coach teaches me to ask myself the tough questions, and to consider what I can do differently or more effectively. I now have the handles to open drawers that were shut tight and new hooks to safely hang my thoughts while I try on new ways to think about things differently. It is like “putting the cookies on a lower shelf,” so what I am feeling is then accessible. As a result, I now find myself thinking more strategically as I go forward - whether propelling my business or balancing my life.

So what does an executive coach do?

  • S/he creates an interactive process which involves acting as non-judgmental sounding board.
  • S/he provides accountability. Think of the process as an amalgamation of having a really good therapist, and a personal board of directors rolled into one.
  • S/he provides a process that helps to integrate the person with the professional.
  • The really effective coach gives permission to and empowers the executive to interject his or her humanity, personality, temperament and value system into the organization, thereby removing and breaking down artificial barriers.

Coaching is like painting lanes on the highway, to make the traffic of one’s life flow more effectively and with fewer unfortunate collision or traffic jams!

What are the characteristics of a good coach?

  • There has to be good chemistry and fit.
  • Look for authenticity, trust, unconditional positive regard and a willingness to ask searching questions in a non-threatening way.
  • Someone who believes in your ability to change, to discover the ideas within you to propel you forward, in your business and your life.

What is the secret sauce that makes coaching so special?

  • Coaches helps leaders to “get on the balcony” to gain perspective in context of business s/he is running, the transition process from one career to the next, the worry about the unpredictability of the economy.
  • Your coaching relationship can be your safe haven to think about the long term, away from the day to day chaos. There can be almost a spiritual dimension that adds humanity to the professional persona.
  • Think about having a partner to walk along side you, as you machete the unchartered territory in the rain forest of your dreams as you proceed on your internal treasure hunt.

As a reader of the White Rhino Report, how would I know if I am the right person to call Mindy?

  • Whether you are in the military transitioning to the business world, or whether you are on Wall Street, or in a university or non-profit system there is a common thread of internal and external navigation: within yourself, your team and even across organizations.
  • Are you in a new position of leadership?
  • Are you leading others during this turbulent time?
  • Are you now required to do something game-changing that is challenging to you?
  • Is the current economic crisis forcing you to think differently about your career or business
  • Are you ready to do something about where you are - not just talk about it?
  • Would having a resource like this allow you to be less “frozen” and think more creatively and effectively about your business.

If your answer to one of more of these questions is a resounding “Yes,” then I encourage you to consider meeting with Mindy to assess whether establish a coaching relationship makes sense. To shift metaphors that come to us from the recent Presidential election and its aftermath, I no longer think of a coach as “Joe the Plumber.” I think of a coach as my personal “Transition Team,” helping me to line up resources to bring about needed change and a fresh approach to the governance of my enterprise.

Yes, we can!

Dr. Mindy Gewirtz

(617) 803-2268

Google’s New Free 411 Service – 1-800-goog411

My sister was kind enough to forward me information about a new service from Google:

Here's a number worth putting in your cell phone, or your home phone speed dial: 1-800-goog411. This is an awesome service from Google, and it's free -- great when you are on the road, or just looking to order a pizza from home.

I am driving along in my car and I need to call the golf course and I don't know the number. I hit the speed dial for google 411.

The voice at the other end says,

"City & State?"

I say, "Garland, Texas."

He says, "Business, Name or Type of Service?"

I say, “Firewheel Golf Course."

He says, "Connecting."

And someone at Firewheel Golf Course answers the phone. How great is that? This is nationwide and it is absolutely free! Save this # in your phones. 1-800 Goog-411 [1 800 466-4411] And it does even more - Click on the link below and watch the short clip for a quick demonstration.

I just tried the service, looking for a “diner” in Arlington, Massachusetts. Within a few seconds, I was talking to someone at the Mass. Ave. Restaurant and Diner in Arlington.



Last-minute SCUBA Opportunity in Belize – Dec. 2-9

A friend of mine booked and paid in advance for a luxury SCUBA vacation in Belize at the famed St. George’s Caye Resort.

Because of a medical emergency, my friend will be unable to make the trip, and is looking for someone who would be interested in a terrific bargain. Here are some particulars:

“The dive trip is Dec. 2-9 in Belize, for two. We prepaid $5,200, and are willing to sell it for a lot less. We would take $3,000 at this point. It includes all lodging, meals and diving, but NOT transportation.”

If you have looking for a once-in-a-lifetime getaway and have the freedom to travel on short notice, this could be a great opportunity. If you are looking for more details, contact me ASAP and I will put you in contact with my friend.


Saturday, November 15, 2008 - A New Network Linking Veterans, Their Families and Supporters

On Thursday evening, I joined a large group of veterans and supporters at Harvard Business School in observance of Veterans’ Day and the birthday of the US Marines Corps. The evening’s keynote speaker was John R. Campbell. John served as a Marine in Vietnam. After a distinguished career as a commercial banker with firms including Credit Suisse First Boston and JP Morgan, John is devoting his retirement years to the vision of creating, an online social network platform designed to connect military veterans, their families and those who want to support our men and women who have served. went live this past week.

Here is how the Website describes the purpose of the new site:

MyVetwork is the online social networking community custom designed to be the most valuable and sustainable community of individuals in the US military — whether active duty, retired or veteran — and their spouses, families and friends. MyVetwork is provided at no cost to individual users.

MyVetwork’s objectives for individual users are twofold:

1) To provide our US military and those who care about them with a means to interact with and support each other in ways that range from the lighthearted and entertaining to deep and meaningful connections that they wish to sustain.

2) To create an interactive exchange where a broad variety of experts – including veterans of earlier conflicts – provide timely news of particular interest to military personnel, distributed in sophisticated, graphically exciting format; job and career advice; information about educational opportunities, advice regarding health care, access to coaching and mentoring services, and a variety of other resources valuable to recently separated veterans demobilizing from the military, whether they are recuperating from injury, moving on to further their education, or planning careers in public or private sectors.

I just took 10 minutes to create a profile for myself within I encourage you to join me in supporting and promoting this new tool.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Small Window Opening onto a Little Bit of Heaven in Kendall Square – Limited Availability at CIC

This past summer, I shared with readers of The White Rhino Report a Boston Globe article about my landlord – Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC).

Since that article first appeared, a number of my friends and business acquaintances have visited me here in Kendall Square, and many have asked me how they might be able to rent space for their company at CIC. This is a typical response whenever someone sees this unique space for the first time. Cambridge Innovation Center is the largest flexible office facility for growing technology and life sciences companies in the Greater Boston areas.

This is a great place to work and to grow a company. CIC offers month-to-month flexibility so that as a company adds employees, it can expand its space. The Center also takes care of all of the back office and infrastructure support needs that can be a nightmare for small companies. I have had occasion to call the “hotline” for the IT support team, and within minutes, a member of the team was standing at my desk helping me to figure out a technical problem with e-mail or printing or Internet access. Tim Rowe and his team have intentionally and successfully created a space that creates a deep sense of community. From the open design of the architectural concept to the community kitchens that serve as natural “town squares,” the culture of CIC invites collaboration and networking. The energy I derive from rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s most creative and energetic entrepreneurs has a synergistic impact on my own work.

Until recently, whenever anyone has asked about renting space for their company at CIC, I have had to tell them that there is a waiting list. The good news today – and one reason for my publishing this piece now – is that because of some recent changes that have occurred at CIC, there is some limited availability of space for new tenants. This situation should create the same kind of buzz and excitement that swept the back rooms of Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill last week when it became clear that there could be a rare open seat for the office of U.S. Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts if John Kerry is tapped for a senior role in the Obama administration.

So, if you would like to take advantage of this “once in a blue moon” opportunity and explore the possibility of joining the companies that call CIC home, you can contact my friend, Dougan Sherwood to set up a visit to 1 Broadway in Kendall Square.

Dougan Sherwood
Cambridge Innovation Center
617-223-7971 – Cell

Visit the CIC Website to get a feel for the place and for the people who make this feel like home for so many of us.

Enjoy, and come pay us a visit. The views are great. The service is unbeatable. It is a happening place.

“Won’t you be my neighbor?”


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Daniel Hartzheim – A Stunning New Talent on Loan to Boston

At a party on Beacon Hill this week, I met several new friends. Among them were some musicians from Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Daniel Hartzheim impressed me the moment I met him – not initially for his musicianship, but for his erudition. He looked at the White Rhino Partners logo on my business card and read the Latin motto: “Esse Quam Videri.”

’To be rather than to seem,’ right?"

“Yes, indeed. You are one of the few people to get it immediately.”

It was only after I had come to know the fine human being that is Daniel Hartzman that I learned to appreciate the accomplished and gifted musician who is honing his composing and performing skills at Berklee.
I invite you to watch this performance of Hartzman’s song “Autumn’s Remarks” with full orchestra.

Daniel’s Website gives access to many more samples of his work – composition, lyrics, keyboard artistry and lilting vocals. His music is haunting and beautiful.

I encourage you to purchase his music using the links on his Website. His debut album, “What Doesn’t Break” was released early this year.


A Very Moving TV Commercial - Sometimes It Takes More than Medication

I have learned to “catch” people doing things rights and to praise them profusely in order to reinforce the positive behavior. When my friend, Ed Westerman, forwarded me this TV commercial, I knew that I would have to make others aware of it. This kind of creativity and sensitivity is all too rare in commercial television.

This piece has been nominated as Best Commercial of the Year. It gets my vote.

Sometimes it takes more than medication – indeed!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Grant Park Revisited - 2008 and 1968

It has been almost a week since the Presidential election was held. I have spent the week in deep reflection over the unprecedented events of election night, and I would like to share some of those musings.

As I watched the scene from Grant Park in Chicago being covered by all the major TV networks, I eagerly awaited the appearance of President-elect Obama. I knew that his words would be iconic. Only a few minutes into his landmark address to the world, tears were coursing down my cheeks. The friend with whom I was watching the coverage turned to me and said: “You seem to be getting emotional.” The question for me that night was, “Why is this historical moment moving me to tears?” In terms of pure policy, I probably find myself more often in agreement with Senator McCain than I do with the President-elect. But Barack Hussein Obama’s ascendance to the Presidency of the United States is about so much more than matters of policy. And it was these larger forces and dynamics that moved me and took me back in time. My roots in Chicago are deep.

Chicago – 1968

I was an undergraduate student at Wheaton College in Illinois, majoring in Sociology. As part of a field study for a Sociology class, I was involved in a project that resulted in my organizing the parents of street gang members on the West side and South side of Chicago. Their sons were incarcerated in the St. Charles Training School, one of the nation’s largest and most violent reform schools. Their sons were also members of Chicago’s two largest street gangs – The Disciples and the Blackstone Rangers (later known as the Black P. Stone Nation and later still as El Rukn.) In a sense, like Obama did later in time, I was doing community organizing in microcosm in the notorious Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side.

It took several months for me to get the mothers to trust me enough to be willing to meet together to form a peer support group. Mrs. Early volunteered to host the first meeting in her modest home in the projects near Roosevelt Road on the near West Side. The meeting was to be held on an evening early in April. As I prepared to leave my dormitory room to head into Chicago for the meeting, my phone rang. It was Mrs. Early:

“Mr. Chase, this is Miss Early. I have been talking to some of the other mothers, and we think it would be best if you did not come tonight.”

“But Mrs. Early, we have been planning this meeting for weeks, and you seemed enthusiastic about hosting the meeting.”

“Well, we don’t think it would be safe for you to drive into the city tonight. Dr. King has just been shot, and there are riots and fires breaking out all around us.”

Once things calmed down in the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination, the mothers’ meeting eventually did take place, and I became involved in the lives of several of the families – particularly several of the families whose sons were members of the Black Stone Rangers. As they learned to trust and accept me – a white face in an otherwise almost totally black neighborhood - I learned things about life in Chicago’s segregated neighborhoods that are usually not apparent or accessible to someone growing up in the serene suburbs of Boston’s North Shore.

On a regular basis, I saw shootings, apartments destroyed by fire, frequent trips to the Emergency Room at Cook County Hospital, funerals for victims of gang violence, drug overdoses, suicide attempts, and street violence. And police brutality. On more than one occasion, I was the victim of intimidation by the overwhelmed Chicago Police Department and the feared Gang Intelligence Unit, who were trying desperately to cope with escalating gang violence and increasingly violent political protests against the Viet Nam War and against racism. These were the days of the Black Panthers and the notorious Chicago Seven. The police probably figured that this white college kid with longish hair must be up to no good in a neighborhood where he “did not belong.” So, it came as no surprise to me in August of that year when what was termed a “police riot” broke out in Grant Park and environs during the chaotic Democratic National Conventional. As police clubbed and bloodied young protestors, the students shouted: “And the whole world is watching.”

Chicago - 2008

Last Tuesday night, once again from Grant Park, “the whole world was watching.” And how that world has changed. In the 40 years since I first walked the mean streets of Chicago, a lot of progress has been made. In 1968, a white college student could not enter an all-black neighborhood without arousing suspicion and recrimination. Tough black street gang members were afraid to enter the all-white suburbs to the north and west of Chicago. A conversation I had with some of the Black Stone Rangers will stay with for the rest of my life: “Al, we have been told that in the suburbs, like Wheaton, where your college is located, the white folks have machine guns behind their hedges in case any black people try to come into their neighborhood. Is that true?” Fear ruled – on both sides of the racial divide. “They” were as much afraid of “us” as “we” were of “them.”

So, last Tuesday, as I watched the images being beamed by satellite from Grant Park, my heart was full and my mind was racing – back to 1968 and forward into the future. Thus I was moved to tears when I heard our next President proclaim: “We are not just a collection of Red States and Blue States. We are and always will be the United States of America . . . It’s been a long time coming, . . . but change has come to America. . . To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help, and I will be your President, too. . . Our Union can be perfected. . . We have come so far, but there is so much left to do. . . Yes we can!”

As Obama’s earnest and eloquent words soared into our hearts and into our history, the TV cameras panned to the tear-stained face of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. And I was transported back to 1968 when he led Operation Breadbasket. I had Jackson’s home phone number in those days so that I could discuss with him whom we should invite to speak at Wheaton College for our event for racial reconciliation.

As Obama reminded us, “Yes we can,” the camera caught an ebullient Oprah Winfrey. And I was taken back to a day I spent with her on Chicago’s West Side. Oprah and I and two federal inmates worked side-by-side that day to build a Habitat for Humanity house for a poor black family. Black and white working together for a common cause.

So, you see, there are myriad reasons why my heart was full and my tears we flowing last week. Reflections of the past and ruminations about the future. Rejoicing with my adopted city over the history-making success of its adopted son.

May God grant wisdom to the man who spoke in Grant Park and who, with the power of his words and the force of his spirit, dispelled the ghosts of 40 years ago.

God bless America!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Two Faces of Change in America - President-elect Barack Obama and Ann Nixon Cooper

This is a proud day in America. Regardless of whether you voted for McCain or Obama, I hope you share the joy this morning that the torch has been passed to a new generation of leadership. I was deeply moved as I listened to McCain's gracious concession speech. His heart-felt words set just the right tone, and were worthy of a man wo has served his country proudly for half a century.

I was even more moved by President-elect Obama's gracious, humble and watershed acceptance speech. I was in tears as he told us the story of Ann Nixon Cooper's trip to the polls in Georgia - a trek of 106 years and tens of thousands of painful steps taken in the dark double penumbras of racism and sexism. Much to my delight this morning, I learned that America's oldest voter has her own Website!

Here are some of the things I learned as I logged onto her site:

Ann Nixon Cooper, 106 years old, has seen presidents come and go in her lifetime and has outlived most of them. On a sunny fall morning, she left her weathered but well-kept Tudor home in Atlanta, Georgia, to vote early -- this time for Barack Obama.

Ann Nixon Cooper, 106 years old, lived during a time when blacks and women did not have the right to vote.

The African-American centenarian remembers a time not long ago when she was barred from voting because of her race. Now she hopes to see the day that Obama is elected as the nation's first black president.

"I ain't got time to die," Cooper said with a smile.

"Even if he didn't win, I was happy for him just to be nominated," said the former socialite. "The first black president -- isn't that something, at 106 years old?"

What a legacy!

What a country.

God bless America. Pray for our next President as he assembles the team that will help him to lead our nation to a return to greatness.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Discovering a New Writer – “The Crow Road” by Ian Banks

I love to discover a new writer – or, more precisely, a writer previously unknown to me. Ian Banks, a Scottish novelist, has been writing fiction and science fiction for quite some time, but I had not been aware of him. I just finished reading his latest novel, “The Crow Road.” I will now begin to backtrack and read some of his earlier writings. I would characterize his writing style as murder mystery meets comedic sarcasm. He combines some of the best elements of Tom Robbins and Harlan Coben.

Here a some brief tidbits of his delicious use of the English language:

“Beside the thick-necked bulk of the Urvill of Urvill (soberly resplendent in what I assumed was the family’s mourning tartan – blackish purple, blackish green and fairly dark black) sat neither of his two daughters, Diana and Helen – those long-legged visions of money-creamed, honey-skinned, globetrotting loveliness – but instead his niece, the stunning, the fabulous, the golden-haired, vellus-faced, diamond-eyed Verity, upwardly nubile scionette of the house of Urvill, the jewel beside the jowls; the girl who, for me, had put the lectual in intellectual, and phany in epiphany and the ibid in libidinous!” (Page 14)

The protagonist and narrator, ‘Prentice, describes his Glasgow roommate, Gavin:

“Gavin stuck his head out from under the duvet, giving me cause once more to marvel at the impressive way the lad’s shoulders merged into his head with no apparent narrowing in between (this appeared to be the principal physical benefit bestowed by the game of rugby; the acquisition of an extremely thick neck. Just as the most important thing one could take to the sport was a thick skull, and from it an intact one still in satisfactory two-way communication with one’s spinal cord).

Gav – who probably epitomized thick-skulledness, though admittedly would not be amongst one’s first fifteen when it came to offering proof of heavy traffic within the central nervous system – opened one bleary eye and focused on me with the same accuracy one has grown to expect from security forces aiming baton rounds at protestors’ legs. ‘What’s made you so unbearable this morning?’” (Page 161)

The narrator’s description of his ample Aunt Ilsa is worth sharing:

“’Where are you off to, Aunt Ilsa?’ I asked the lady in question, during our waltz. Aunt Ilsa, even larger than I remembered her, and dressed in something which looked like a cross between a Persian rug and a multi-occupancy poncho – moved with the determined grace of an elephant and a curious stiffness that made the experience a little like dancing with a garden shed.” (Page 360)

The plot of the novel weaves its way through several generations and branches of a wonderfully dysfunctional clan who live among the lochs of the Highlands of Scotland. Death – colloquially known as “The Crow Road – is a motif that recurs every few chapters. Banks’ rich narratives and inventive descriptions are interspersed with dialogue that explores the meaning of life and the after-life – or the lack thereof.

It is almost trite to talk about not being able to put a book down, but this was the case for me as I made my way through the chapters of this novel. If you have not already been familiar with Banks and his work, I encourage you to add him to your list of authors to check out.